After the third song, I retreated to our table.
“She is, isn’t she?” Taylor said, his eyes bright. “Do you want another water? I’m going to grab another beer.”
“Boy, for someone who wants to hate him so much, you sure are staring at him,” Dalton said.
“Habit,” I said, watching as Shea filled a cup with water.
Taylor took his beer and my water, and he carried them back toward us before setting my cup on the table.
“Damn, Taylor,” Zeke said. “She’s making sure you’re not slipping something in her drink.”
“Does that happen a lot around here?” Zeke asked, a little disturbed at the thought.
Taylor gritted his teeth. “I’d better not catch anyone doing that shit. That’s grounds for an ass-beating.”
“It ain’t because she don’t know you,” Zeke said. “She just needs an excuse to watch you when you’re with the hot bartender.”
“I’m not with the hot bartender,” Taylor told his friend.
“I’d like to be with the hot bartender,” Zeke said. Smiling at Shea, he took a sip of his beer.
“She has a name,” I said. When Taylor didn’t seem to remember, I reminded him, “Shea.”
He tried to look sorry but failed. “I know your name.”
“Quit acting like we’re strangers. I’m not going to put anything weird in your drink. I’ve never had to drug anyone to get laid, and I’m not going to start now.”
He nudged me with his elbow. “You know I’m a good dancer.”
Dalton and Zeke busted into laughter again.
Taylor lowered his head, laughing. “Cruel. She’s gone and insulted my dancing skills!”
I took a big gulp of ice water and set it down, the cup half empty. Droplets of sweat were skipping down my back into my jeans. I dabbed my forehead with my wrist. “I really should go.”
A new song boomed through the speakers, and everyone cheered and headed toward the dance floor.
“One more!” Taylor said, tugging on my hand.
I pressed my lips together, trying not to smile. “Okay, but then that’s it! I’ve got to work in the morning.”
“Deal!” he said, leading me by the hand from the tightly woven carpet to the wooden dance floor.
Taylor spun me before we began our counted dance. We fell in line, dancing counterclockwise like everyone around us. Couples were spinning and laughing, and if they missed a step or messed up, they only laughed harder.
I was amazed at how quickly I had caught on, and I could even anticipate what Taylor was going to do next. That was, until the height of the song when he did something new. This time, he pushed me away from his body and crossed our arms, pulling me close to him, and then in the next moment, I was in the air, upside down, until I was back on my feet, two-stepping again.
I was cackling like a maniac, unable to control my laughter.
“I’m not even sure what happened!”
“Flipped me? I just did a flip? In the air?” I asked, using my index finger to make invisible little circles.
“Yep. I’ve ruined you for all other first dates. Admit it.”
I missed a step as I looked down and then back up. “This isn’t a date.”
Taylor leaned in, his nose caressing the edge of my ear. “That never works out for me.”
I stepped back. The feeling coming over me was more than just a tad alarming. I waved at him and began to walk away, but he tugged on my shirt.
Then his hands fell to his sides. “C’mon, Falyn. You weren’t serious about that, were you? We were having fun.”
I stepped off the dance floor and waved to Dalton and Zeke. Then I pushed through several people to get to the exit. I escaped through the door and walked into the warm summer night air, taking a big breath.
He is going to appear in three, two—
“Falyn!” Taylor said from behind me.
I suppressed a smile. “You said you wouldn’t even walk me home, remember?”
Disappointment darkened Taylor’s eyes, but he kept his expression smooth. “Whatever you say, Ivy League.”
It was a risk. If his ego weren’t as durable as I thought, he’d never speak to me again. But of all the arrogant bastards I’d ever come across, Taylor Maddox surpassed every one.
Still, I had to toss him a bone. I leaned up on the balls of my feet and kissed him on the cheek, letting my lips linger on his skin for just a second longer. Taylor came closer, drawn to my mouth, his face turning less than a centimeter toward me. I backed away, but when our eyes met, he looked completely different. I couldn’t pinpoint it, but something had changed.
I began my return home, pausing at the stoplight to press the button for the crosswalk. Tejon Street had moderate traffic for a weekend night, not that I had much to compare it to. Usually, by this time, I would be lying on my couch, eating cheese and crackers while reading one of the trash mags Kirby loved to bring to work to read on breaks.
“Hey!” Dalton said, running up to me.
“He promised he wouldn’t walk you home. But he didn’t promise he wouldn’t make me walk you home.”
I shook my head, trying to subdue the victory welling up inside of me. “I can handle walking across the street.”
“Just pretend I’m walking in the same direction then.”
The light changed, and Dalton and I silently crossed the street, passing two businesses before we reached the front door of the Bucksaw. I pulled the key ring from my pocket and stabbed the dead bolt with one of the two keys hanging from the ring.
He nodded, returning to Cowboys. The dance club was across the street and another two doors down, but I could see Taylor and Zeke standing together on the sidewalk, smoking, chatting, and intermittently checking my progress.
I pulled the door open before closing and locking it behind me. The blinds were drawn, and the lights were off in the dining area. I fumbled around until I found the stairs leading to my loft.
The second key fit in my door. I turned the lock until I heard a click, and then I twisted the knob to my empty apartment. Most Friday nights, I could hear the throbbing bass from Cowboys as I lay in bed, and this night was no exception. But this time, I looked through the letters in my shoebox, my eyes watering at the return address on all the envelopes, with the possibility of being in Eakins soon becoming a reality.